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Guest Column: Opportunity is lost—let us begin again

July 1, 1993

Guest Column: Opportunity is lost—let us begin again

By John Kutsch

I thought about titling this piece, “Better get used to it,” or, “Abandon all hope,” or perhaps even a modestly optimistic, “Time for a change.”

What I want you to know right now is that, in fact, it is too late for optimism, planning or hard work to bring back our heavy manufacturing base—in this region or in this country. It is gone surely as Europe lost it 60 years ago. Of course, just as Italy still makes stuff and Germany can crank out cars, we will always have some base of manufacturing operations in the United States, perhaps even here in Rockford.

Still, the core and commodity products are gone (not going—gone). There is no amount of buckling down and belt tightening and innovation that can bring the lost jobs back. They are gone, and they are gone for good. Because no matter how hard we work, we can’t compete against slave labor, military-forced labor, and uneducated child labor. People work in such unsafe and unclean conditions in other countries knowing that hundreds wait in line to replace them when they die. These jobs are gone, and they will stay that way because there is no will in this country to fight because spineless politicians cave in to the will of their masters who want to break the backs of regulators and unions that try to prevent us from sliding down the quality of life slope. The bleating cry and crocodile tears of a president only getting $500 billion payback to the very wealthy after a similar payback in 2001. (You do remember that, don’t you? No, you don’t; people never remember the travesties.)

Unions are fighting for our quality of life, but they are doing it with the most outdated of tools and attitudes, wrestling over the tiny and losing sight of the big picture, and negotiating in the face of extinction instead of fighting for new opportunities.

They are gone because our political leaders, labor leaders and community institutions have failed us.

And we have failed ourselves. We vote these people in, we buy their papers, and donate to their causes. We support the politician who supports NAFTA and free trade with China. We continue to back without question the union that won’t modernize its work rules. We fool ourselves into thinking, “this happens to others,” and there is isn’t anyone in this country who doesn’t think they’re middle class, which will “protect” them. People have to be very poor or very wealthy before they admit they are not middle class. It’s time we stop fooling ourselves into thinking we have the same opportunities our predecessors had. When will we wake up? I don’t believe we will. Like the slowly boiling frog or lobster, we don’t realize we’re being bold to death until it’s too late and we are dead. Will society realize when our architects lose their jobs to foreign competition, our lawyers, our accountants, our doctors, our computer programmers—will losing these white collar jobs to foreign lands wake us up when losing the blue collar ones did not?

No, it won’t, because, as I said, “It never happens to me, it always happens to you.” Even when someone is laid off, he lives in denial and he doesn’t think he is like anyone else. We will watch the erosion of our quality of life alone together if we don’t change.

Another reason this economy has conked out is that we buy into the local media. I look at the relentless optimism of organizations like the Rockford Register Star whenever failing businesses in the area crumble. An example, “Motorola abandons Harvard after five years”: “Harvard business owners speak of the plant with affection, like they would of an old friend who has moved away. Profits for most local businesses are down, but the road running through the middle of town is not barren. Life goes on. Inhabitants of this community of 20,000 people in McHenry County seem to be taking the loss in stride.”

I don’t know what the author did for research but, as a resident of Harvard, I can say no one speaks of Motorola or the plant like an old friend; the only thing that keeps Route 14 from being barren is the traffic passing through, and there has never been even half of 20,000 people living there.

But the ethos are relentlessly, “Don’t speak of the elephant in the corner!” In other words, don’t speak of the millions given to companies like Motorola to only have it squandered and wasted. (Rep. Jack Franks is trying to prevent this from happening in the future by making companies that don’t hold up their end of the bargain pay back the money.)

Don’t speak of the utter futility in trying to lure the one big business into town instead of a large and diverse base of new types of businesses. Think not of the core city, but only support ever increasing developments pushing into the green fields on the outskirts.

The Rockford Register Star prefers to quote our useless congressman’s press secretary, Rich Carter rather than face the issue. The newspaper quoted Carter: “Don’t try to get the Pentagon to reconsider Ingersoll as a supplier.” They utterly fail to speak of Don Manzullo’s recent admission that he was duped by industry with free trade and that he as much as sold the region down the river in Mexico and China. An amazing admission that got very little play here in his home district. That would be admitting we’re dead when it comes to heavy industry.

The old industrial blue-bloods of Rockford are dead or dying. It is time to stand up to the cowards who have led us whistling past the graveyard of failed business and tell them we want our country, county and city back. We must admit the old ways are dead, dying and leaving—but new opportunities are arising.

We cannot let these seeds of opportunity fall on dead earth. We still have great opportunities in areas that are just now starting to emerge as vital to a healthy future that if the old guard had its way, it would destroy them, too, with its ancient ideas and bitter old rivalries. Do not let them ruin our new economy. Let us retake our city and county and country and show tired old leaders the door. We have a chance to begin anew if we stop being afraid to face our problems and join each other in a struggle for our future.

John Kutsch is a local activist.

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